Wikistrat recently released its report from the strategic simulation “The Next Russian Military Intervention” in which analysts were asked to propose where might be the “next Crimea”.
The report, by Wikistrat Senior Analyst Prof. Mark Galeotti, was also featured in Business Insider and described the five most likely scenarios from the simulation. Today, we would like to highlight a sixth scenario which suggested that a succession crisis in Uzbekistan could prompt a Russian military intervention.
Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan (second from left) poses with President Serzh Sargsyan of Armenia, then-President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia and President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, May 8, 2010
When Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan’s president for life, succumbs to another heart attack, the battle for succession flares. Gulnara Karimova, once thought to be most likely to inherit the presidency from her father, does not recover from the 2013 blow to her reputation and power in time to renew her claim. Instead, the main succession battle takes place outside the Karimov family, pitting Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev against Vice President Rustan Azimov, who is also finance minister.
While Mirziyoyev is backed by Russia and is in a stronger financial position, thanks in part due to his daughter’s marriage to a Russian oligarch, Azimov’s conflict with Gulnara Karimova in 2013 (when she accused him of corruption) provided him with significant popular support.
When Mirziyoyev is nevertheless declared the winner in an election, Azimov calls his supporters to the streets. Busy establishing his own system, Mirziyoyev does not respond harshly at first, allowing the protests to spread across the country. After a few violent altercations between protesters and police, however, the new president makes use of the situation to arrest Azimov for inciting “terrorism” and sends out his troops. When the demonstrations subsequently take a turn for the worse, Mirziyoyev disappears. Rumors spread that he was killed.
Russia cannot allow Azimov, who is a proponent of Uzbekistan’s strategic partnership with the United States, to take power and push the country further away from Russia. Nor it can allow another popular putsch against authoritarianism in its neighborhood.
President Vladimir Putin sees this as a chance to undo Uzbekistan’s cooperation with the United States, reintegrate the country into the CSTO and reverse what otherwise might be trend of populist anti-authoritarian risings in post-Soviet Eurasia. In addition, the American withdrawal from Afghanistan and closing of the Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan emboldens Putin who feels the time is right to reestablish Russian preponderance in the region. (more…)